"Vacate,' v = "vacation," v?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Feb 4 03:40:52 UTC 2006

>Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>>  Heard in passing (black male ca.25 years old):
>>  "I got laid off, so I though that I would just vacate for a while."
>Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
>>  A little voice tells me he meant "go away" for a while.  When a place is
>>  vacated, the people go away.
>If there's a semantic shift from trans. 'empty (a place)'  to intrans.
>'leave (from a place)', perhaps it's analogized from the double sense
>of "evacuate" (cf. also "clear out").
>--Ben Zimmer
I still read this the way I think Wilson was doing--"vacate" = 'go on
vacation'.   (During the period when the authorities were trying to
get residents of the Gulf Coast area to leave their homes I kept
doing mental double-takes involving the unintended meaning of
"evacuate", but that was just taboo avoidance operating--no real
homonymic problems in these cases.)

As far as the OED entry under 4 that you mention--

U.S. To give up work for a time; to take a holiday or vacation.
1836 Knickerbocker VII. 15 Ned and I were vacating..at his father's
charming residence. 1885 Advance (Chicago) 23 July 476 One thing he [a
Chinaman] can never learn, and that is how to vacate.

--I suspect that this sort of independent reinvention is more likely
than persistence in such cases of relatively unlexicalized
back-formation.  Hard to prove, I concede.


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